Recently a post appeared on Babble, written by an anonymous father, about how fearful he and his wife are about having twins. He refers to having twins as a “nightmare.” He writes that he and his wife, who conceived the twins through in vitro fertilization after struggling with infertility, are “pissed. And terrified, and angry, and guilty, and regretful.”
The couple already has a son, so they feel like they know what they’re in for, and it’s not pretty:
“Our fear is not the new parent fear of the unknown. It’s the smart, informed fear of the known. Our biggest nightmare is that we’ll have colic again, or double colic. This time around, we’re counting down — not like expected parents but like cancer patients with only months to live. Enjoy life while you can, for soon it’s double the diapers, double the feedings. Half of zero sleep is … less than zero?
“So tell me how this isn’t going to suck. (Did I mention we live in a one-bedroom apartment?)”
I have twins. As a member of my local Mothers of Multiples club for more than a decade, I have many, many friends with multiples: twins, triplets, quads. I know people with multiple multiples (two sets of twins). I know people who conceived multiples with and without medical assistance. I know people who adopted mutiples; some of them knew they were getting twins, some of them didn’t.
I didn’t see the dad’s original post on Babble. I saw it when it was republished on Huffington Post and made the rounds among my friends. They were, frankly, horrified.
It’s hard not to be. Given the deep history many of these women have had with infertility, it’s hard not to be concerned when someone who does infertility is pissed that they’re having twins. I mean, it’s a known possibility, and one that every fertility doctor thoroughly explains. And, it’s not like this couple didn’t know they lived in a one-bedroom apartment when they decided to invest the time, emotional energy, and money into in vitro. A one-bedroom apartment is going to be a tight fit for four people or five people.
When my husband and I found out we were expecting twins, we were a little freaked out. When you daydream about having a baby, you pretty much usually only picture one crib in your nursery. How much stuff would we really need? How do you feed two babies at the same time? I had planned to continue working at least part-time; if we had to put two infants in daycare, my job would no longer be a profit deal.
Mostly, though, I was concerned about keeping the pregnancy. All multiple-baby pregnancies are high risk. My primary focus became staying as healthy as possible, and reading everything I could about twin pregnancy and parenting twins.
My fraternal twin daughters just turned 12. They are amazing, beautiful, intelligent, compassionate young women, and I am grateful to have them in my life. Having survived my twin pregnancy, a premature emergency delivery, a stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, double cases of colic that turned out to be allergy-induced acid reflux, potty-training, and everything else all the way up to teaching them how to shave their armpits, I figured maybe I should offer this couple some advice.
1. Acknowledge your feelings. Then buck up. I say this with love, and I say this as someone who has struggled with a lifetime of depression and anxiety disorders: I feel like maybe you need Cher’s character in Moonstruck to show up and smack you with a hearty “Snap out of it!” You’re the parent. Give yourself one day for a pity party and then move the hell on. If you find that you can’t do that, then please, for the love of God, get some counseling now to help you with that process.
2. Seek out positive support. It’s hard to avoid negativity when you’re pregnant: everyone’s got a horror story for you. With twins, this is doubly true. Instead of asking about people’s “nightmare” experiences, seek out positive support. Start by visiting the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs (NOMOTC) website. Enter your ZIP Code, and it will find your nearest local chapter. Many chapters allow you to join as “stork members” when you’re pregnant, and have Facebook groups you can join to ask questions and get advice. Some clubs also have mentorship or “big sister” programs that pair up the expectant mom with a mom who has been through the same things. Note: Parents expecting higher-order multiples shouldn’t be turned off by the “twins club” name — you’ll find plenty of triplet, quad, and other higher-order multiple parents at NOMOTC chapters. Another great organization higher-order families should check out is Mothers of Super Twins (MOST).
3. Focus on the pregnancy itself. Pregnancy with multiples is higher risk than singleton pregnancy. Focus on the pregnancy, and don’t worry too much about what comes next. Take things day by day. This is good practice for when the babies come: you’ll want to take that day by day, too.
4. Enjoy one-on-one time with your singleton. You’ve only got a few months left of being a family of three. Enjoy that time! Having two babies enter the picture is going to be a huge adjustment for your little one, but he’ll be fine. Take photos of the three of you and create memories. Listen to your son’s concerns and try your best not to show how stressed you are, or else he’ll really think there’s something to worry about. For parents who are expecting their first children, enjoy this time as a couple. Single parent expecting multiples? Enjoy your solitude and revel in the opportunity to pee alone.
5. Everything about parenting is surprising–having multiples is just one of those things. There are always surprises involved with pregnancy and parenthood. You can plan, sure, but most of the time Mother Nature is just going to laugh at those plans. Seriously, do you know a single person whose birth plan actually went according to plan? I don’t. Whether you use fertility treatments or not, whether you’re having a singleton or quads, to a certain extent, parenting is one giant crapshoot. I didn’t plan to have twins. I didn’t plan for my kids to have food allergies, asthma, or autism. On the other hand, I also didn’t plan for them to teach themselves Mandarin Chinese, come up with charity projects on their own, or be die-hard Star Wars fans. Surprises can be difficult, but they can also be amazing.
6. Know that the first year will be hard, but there will still be joy. Some things are harder with twins, and even more so if they’re born prematurely or have medical issues. My twin girls screamed 80 percent of the time they were awake, with pain from what turned out to be GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), brought on by massive food allergies. They didn’t sleep well. But you know what? There were also many, many moments of joy. If either of you aren’t experiencing any joy, or feel sad most of the time, seek help. Your ob/gyn or general physician should be able to refer you to a psychiatrist that can help with issues of depression after pregnancy. Also, if either of you have a history of depression or anxiety (as I do), now is a great time for a med check and to touch base with your therapist. Put a plan into place for what to do if depression or anxiety symptoms worsen during the pregnancy and after delivery.
7. Line up support. Plan out a calendar of help. Even better, ask a friend or family member to do this, so that you don’t have to feel weird or guilty asking for help. If you have family members that might be able to stay with you to help out, sign them up. If you don’t have family around that’s able to do that, consider hiring a mother’s helper. You don’t really need an expensive nanny or a nurse–you just need an extra set of hands. Find a responsible young teen in your neighborhood who can come over every afternoon.
8. You don’t actually need two of everything. Seriously, don’t freak out too much about the stuff. You don’t really need two of everything. You can get good advice on what’s really helpful and what’s not from members of your local mothers of multiples club, and you can often score secondhand gear and clothes on the cheap at their consignment sales.
9. No pregnancy is the same, and no baby is the same. You’re worried because your singleton had colic, and colic makes the first months especially hard. But your twins may not have colic; only 20 percent of babies have it, and at least one study found that first-born babies are more likely to have colic. In our family’s case, because we had identified that our twins’ “colic” was really stemming from food allergies, we had our third and fourth children tested for food allergies very early, and they didn’t go through the pain, suffering, and crying their older sisters went through.
10. Yes, you will sleep again. You’ll even have sex again. I know that you’ve heard nightmare stories from people who supposedly know what they’re talking about. But their personal experiences are just that: their personal experiences, not mine or yours or anyone else’s.
My dear expectant parents, all parenting is difficult. Anyone who thinks parenting is easy simply isn’t paying attention. Parenting multiples comes with its own unique challenges, but it also comes with unique joys. My twin daughters, who spoke a language all their own until they were two, are still incredibly close. They have different talents, different strengths and different weaknesses. They are yin and yang: two entirely separate individuals, intimately connected. I consider it a privilege to even witness the bond they have with each other.
(Photo Credits: Twin boys, Amy Wothers; Cher .gif, gifSoup)
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